My reasoning for being so blunt (because being less so hasn’t worked) is simple: this ableist nonsense is the majority of peddled “discourse” around this topic and it’s trash. Why are we happy to just go along with framing things as a11y opposed to artist’s intent? Why do people with different reaction times or a11y needs than the developer get thrown under a bus of “oh well their game is just designed like this, it’s their vision”?
The simplest way of breaking this down is by demanding that vision be purely explained. Any action game says that in response to various stimuli on the screen a window for reactions is required of the player. So tell me the artistic intent. Give it to me in engineering terms as we’re working with machinery here. Exactly how many ms after this does the controller need to get a response before a hard failure?
“Ok, within 220ms of scan-out for this frame, the user needs to have responded.”
“Right, so is that within 210ms of seeing it, which this TV provides, or within 95ms, which is what this other TV forces the user to respond within? Seems like rather a big range of required reaction times you’ve marked down with that spec. Do you mean for the player to be able to (briefly) think before responding or need to react basically automatically because that’s not the same time for every player, even if we force them all to use the same TV.”
If the answer to that is there is no locked exact intent, no specific designed value because it’s up to a host of things involved in the hardware and effectively out of the reach of the developer, then we can be sure that there is no fixed intent we are demolishing by saying that some people have different reaction times to others and so a game needs to be able to account for this. There is no singular vision and that absolutely collapses the argument that offering a range of experiences in any way dilutes the vision (and we can extend this position beyond response windows - the most obvious case where it just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny). There are already a range of experiences offered (something the designer cannot prevent from existing) so to play out this false narrative of “the a11y considerations inherently risk costing the purity of the design” (as comes across in various reporting/podcasting on this topic) is quite frankly hogwash. It’s flat up ableist and not something we should tolerate in progressive communities.
If a game is meant to be frustrating then it should be. But that doesn’t mean that you should ever frame affordances for a11y as inherently compromising that design intent. How do you make a game about that while making it so more people can be frustrated? How can you avoid someone with the best hardware and great reaction times and some rare affinity for what you think of as frustrating from just walking through your game? Now that’s a responsive game design question. Of course it feels different with different hardware, it feels very different with a trackball - this is all part of the wider considerations of the game design (and not thinking about them just shows there is no perfect, untouchable intent that assist modes etc can destroy - the designer has not thought of everything, one thing they need to think about now is inclusivity and marginalised groups they have excluded that they do not need do).
Again, I totally agree that these all are extremely complex design issues. My issue is that this framing of them is a surface-level skimming on the top; that it prevents meaningfully engaging with deeper design questions because it doesn’t understand the issue enough to realise that a11y isn’t the enemy of design intent and that the inherently variable systems we’re all building upon means there is nothing sacred about the precise points any single design picked if it doesn’t offer any flexibility. We’ve all heard the phrase “some people live life on easy mode” to explain systemic privilege; that totally extends to games that lack any affordances to players.
Some people are playing every game (especially the ones without any affordances) on easy and other are playing them on hard; let’s work to ensure the discourse acknowledges that rather than reinforcing notions of design purity requiring many marginalised people be excluded.